Sunday, December 30, 2012

Shipwrecks and Ballads

I was listening my way through a playlist of Gordon Lightfoot's songs on YouTube when I ran across "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". This song reached out of my computer and grabbed me by the throat - as I type this, I think I've listened to it at least six times and am working on memorizing the lyrics.

I know I've heard of this wreck before, but I always assumed it had taken place at least a hundred years or so ago and on saltwater. I was shocked to discover it happened November 10, 1975 on Lake Superior. This is tremendously exciting because back in the spring 2005, I spent a week kayaking across the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior in order to run away from my thesis before my head exploded. The Outdoor Venture club at my college offered this kayaking trip and I was so stressed out from writing my thesis that I abandoned it to scamper off a vast, unknown land heavily peopled with bears, poison ivy, and more mosquitoes than any patch of earth has the right to commandeer.

Here I am in my fetching kayaking gear; note the jazzy pink wetsuit and the stylish blue spray skirt. I'm standing happily on a narrow spit of beach about 2:00 in the afternoon after a long day of paddling and after a week of eating dozens of energy bars, to the point that I won't be able to look at plastic wrapped food for a couple weeks. I'm covered with dozens of mosquito bites, about two gallons of sunscreen, and copious perspiration from a week of not bathing. My shoulders are screaming in pain, my hands are callused from the paddle, and I've been battling through 2-3 foot waves on choppy waters with a grey, vaguely ominous-looking sky overhead.

Little do I know that in a few hours, my entire fleet will encounter 6-7 foot waves that will toss us merrily about for several hours like toy boats in a hot tub until we finally push our way into a sheltered bay and collapse from exhaustion. This is, of course, after one of our members capsizes and two kayakers have to get him back on board in 50 degree water and vigorous waves. Note to all: when you tell God you are bored and want an adventure, he may drop you down in the middle of a storm at sea to concede to your wishes. Thankfully none of us drowned or froze, and the event became one of my best stories.    

For those of you who have yet to brave life and limb on Lake Superior, know that there is an official Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum and if that isn't strong enough testament of how capriciously hazardous journeying through those waters can be, I do not know. The Apostle Islands are nowhere near where the Edmund Fitzgerald sank, for that I am infinitely grateful because apparently the good ship encountered 35 foot swells during the last several hours before she sank. I shudder as I mentally try to picture standing on a ship and watching waves the size of a four story house roll towards me.

All of this is to say that ballads about ships, shipwrecks, trials at sea and others of that ilk are haunting, powerful, and alluring. Abney Park's "Aether Shanty" and "Wrath of Fate" put a wonderful twist on these types of songs by centering them on airships instead of marine ships. "Aether Shanty" gets my vote as the most masculine, stirring song I have ever encountered.

Hence, I have decided that I must write at least one ballad for the Horizon, something commemorating their adventures and struggles - Abney Park has "The Ballad of Captain Robert" so perhaps Gavin Roberts needs his own ballad too. So far, I am thinking that the Horizon needs a crew member who is musically inclined and pens a stirring, haunting airship ballad for the crew to sing as they pass the long hours in the air and when they are carousing in a local pub.

Writing this song should be an interesting endeavor, and I hope I can rise to the aspiration. I come from a casually musical family: Mom has an excellent voice and plays wonderful piano and guitar, and I grew up in a houseful of music. While us four kids don't possess a great deal of classical training, we all can dink around on the piano, sing well, and create goofy song lyrics on the spot. I have written dozens of songs for my Basset Hound, and last year Mom and I recorded a little Christmas album in a friend's basement.

However, writing a song entails both musical originality and versing skill, and I freely admit that my ability to write poetry and/or pack dense layers of meaning into a few verses is regrettably lacking. Now, give me an existing song or poem to parody, and I can spit out something clever and punchy when inspiration strikes. Starting with a tabla rasa is an entirely different matter, and currently I do not feel I have sufficiently grasped the essence of the Horizon and her story to write a suitable ballad. Perhaps after I have done some work on Book Two (tentatively entitled Opium Skies), the music writing muse will strike. For now, I will content myself to mentally chew over the matter and make subtle forays into the wild depths of creative inspiration.  

Tuesday, I set to work on Chapter 22, nowhere near my deadline of having all of Draft 2 done by the end of the month, but not daunted. Revising has been somewhat hampered by my return to the workforce; I've been waitressing the past month and will soon start a full-time job as a dispatch coordinator for a medical helicopter company. I eagerly anticipate learning an abundance of information about latitude, mapping, air conditions, and a multitude of other facts which will play excellently into writing my Airship Trilogy. I will be working 12 hour shifts alternating between a long week (5 shifts) and a short week (2 shifts). While I don't anticipate getting much writing done during my long weeks, my short weeks will offer days of glorious writing time and as a whole, I think this schedule will offer much more freedom than a regular 9-5.

While I am sad to have to give up writing full-time, I am exceedingly grateful for the three months I had where I was not working a job and could focus my attention fully on finishing Draft . I do strongly believe I will have Steam on the Horizon available by the end of February, and it's amazing how soon that date seems.

Despite the fact that I awoke a mere 11 hours ago, I find myself strangely fatigued. Bedtime!

1 comment:

  1. You got the helicopter job? Congratulations! That should be very interesting. And a ballad or shanty will be a nice touch!